04/02/2016, 09.57
PAKISTAN
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Peshawar, after 70 years an old Sikh temple reopened for worship

by Kamran Chaudhry

The Bhai Beba Singh temple had been closed because of a dispute over the privacy of Muslim women. The provincial government has reached an agreement with the religious leaders. Among the clauses, the construction of a wall to "protect" the girls of the nearby school. But some Sikhs complain that the initiative is a "red herring" and affirm the existence of a land mafia.

Peshawar (AsiaNews) - The Bhai Singh Beba temple, an ancient place of worship for the Sikh religion, has been reopened to the public after 70 years in the city of Peshawar in northern Pakistan. The opening ceremony took place on March 30 in the presence of provincial ministers and representatives of religious minorities. Siddique-ul-Farooq, chairman of the temple board, has promised to allocate one million rupees for its maintenance; another three million were secured by Sardar Suran Singh, advisor to the chief minister for minorities.

However, Sikh leaders are divided on the initiative and some are asking the government to stop the land mafia and to protect others gurdwara (the places of worship of Sikhism).

Pakistan is home to about 40 thousand Sikh faithful, out of a Muslim majority population (97%). In the Peshawar area, one of the most conservative cities in the country, live 1,200 Sikh families.

The temple had been closed before the creation of Pakistan in 1947, because of a dispute between Muslims and Sikhs on the privacy of women who lived nearby. Two people were killed during those protests.

Last year, the district administration organized a jirga (meeting of local tribal) between the two religious communities, which ended with the signing of an agreement for the reopening. The agreement also provides for the construction of a wall which ensures the privacy of the girls in the adjoining school and a roof to ensure the privacy of the entire neighborhood.

Speaking by phone to AsiaNews, Sardar Suran Singh attributed the merit of the historic agreement to the provincial government and the local population. "Over the last 70 years - he said - no one has ever tried to damage the property or to occupy it. The meeting with local leaders has made this possible, which is a living example of harmony between religions”.

However, Sardar Mastan Singh, president of the Sikh Council, has the opposite view and has called the reopening a ‘red herring ". According to the religious, the building was reopened in 2012, while "the program was organized only to attract media attention and to show that [authorities] are concerned about religious minorities."

Mastan Singh warns: "An old gurdwara in Lahore is now a market. We have lost five temples around the country. Over 60 properties of Nankana Sahib Administration Fund, the birthplace of Sikhism, are occupied by various political parties. Our community is not happy with the work of the government. We demand the freedom of worship and the exclusion of politics from our religious affairs".

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